Archive for the 'boricua/latino' Category

Who are the Young Lords?

Apparently we are supposed to believe that there are now two answers to that question. One of those answers is really pissing me off this morning. I’ll let you guess which one.

members of the Young Lords

Answer #1:
The Young Lords Party, also known as the Young Lords Organization, was a primarily stateside-based Puerto Rican organization dedicated to liberation, independence, and justice for Puerto Ricans both in the States and on the island and for all oppressed people. They were inspired by and worked parallel to organizations like the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement. Like those organizations, they were targeted by COINTELPRO and the other powers that be which, along with internal conflict and political shifts, lead to the organization’s disintegration in the mid-1970s. They continue to remain an important, revolutionary and inspirational movement for Puerto Ricans and other Latinos living in the United States. You can find out more about the Young Lords at and

Members of the paler, apolitical Young Lords

Answer #2:
The Young Lords are some white guys who decided to form an indie rock band in NYC a few years ago and apparently couldn’t be bothered to find out whether they were ripping off the name of an entire political movement that most certainly does not belong to them. One might argue that words are words and no one can claim to own the name “Young Lords,” but how would it look if some white dudes decided to name their band the Black Panthers? That would probably be less likely to happen since more people know about the Black Panthers, but come on, people – we live in the age of Google (which, sadly, now has the MySpace page for this stupid band ranked above pages about the actual Young Lords in search results.) It is tremendously easy to look things up. I can’t help but think that they probably did look it up before they took up the name themselves and just didn’t give a fuck, but even if they could claim the innocence of ignorance then, I’m sure that one of them has Googled their band name since. For a band whose bio claims that their “sound pays homage to the past,” they’re displaying a remarkable amount of ahistoricity, ignorance and disrespect.

So fuck Answer #2 and their unremarkable music. In the end, they’ll likely just be another of a long string of interchangeable white bands, and Answer #1 will be the only one that actually still matters.

Puerto Rico en mi corazon

Meeting Bill Clinton

Me and Bill Clinton

(Note: details of the meeting follow my personal narrative!)

A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to represent Feministe as a credentialed blogger at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, which kicks off today in NYC. I was psyched, a tad skeptical, and more than a tad nervous all at once. I’ve never been invited to participate in anything as A Blogger, much less something this high-profile. I tend to think of myself as a relatively little fish in the blogosea, and all sorts of self-doubt about whether I was really qualified for this or deserved it started running through my head.

All of this anxiety was amped up exponentially when I got the additional invite to participate in a blogger meeting with President Bill Clinton before the start of the CGI meeting. I responded to the invite right away, but then all that doubt flooded in I nearly wrote back and said never mind. I mean, really – was I good enough or important enough to deserve a spot?

But then I thought to my self, now hold up, Jack. These doubts were certainly due in part to the sorts of insecurities that everyone gets from time to time about their skills, and also due in part to some rational acknowledgment of the fact that, for sure, I haven’t busted ass posting or networking or engaging in the public discourse as much as some other folks out there, so I’m understandably gonna be smaller potatoes. But I think they were also fueled in no small part by internalization of the sort of dynamics that permeate the blogosphere as much as the rest of the world; dynamics of privilege and power that automatically lend higher degrees of traction, legitimacy, or “authority” (as Technocrati puts it) to certain voices than to others for reasons entirely apart from the quality and quantity of their thoughts and words. The kind of dynamics, for example, that led to a 2006 blogger meeting with Bill Clinton being all white (and that helped this year’s meeting be predominantly white, too.) [1] Internalization is all about oppressed people learning to help keep themselves down, so I checked myself and decided not to help out on that count.

There was also an entirely different set of misgivings: how would I reconcile my politics with this meeting? Continue reading ‘Meeting Bill Clinton’

SieteNueve to Daddy Yankee: “Quedate Callao!”

Y’all might’ve caught wind of how Daddy Yankee took a real pendejo turn in endorsing John McCain for president. That was an annoying “WTF?!?” moment for me, but not terribly heartbreaking; sure, I’ve enjoyed breaking it down on the dancefloor to “Gasolina” and “Rompe,” but I never really looked to Daddy Yankee for political fulfillment or anything like that. So I’m not going to shed any tears over this, though I am probably gonna take his songs out of my house party wannabe iTunes DJ lineup and maybe replace him with some Calle 13 or something (check out “Querido FBI” and “Pal’ Norte” for some of their politics.)

Well, today my friend and fellow blogger Cyborg Yoryie clued me in to an awesome response to Daddy Yankee, this from Puerto Rican rapper SieteNueve. Not only is this an awesome response politically, but it’s also a hot track and serves as my introduction to another awesome politically conscious Puerto Rican hip hop artist. You can download the track for free at SieteNueve’s MySpace page.

ETA: “Quedate Callao!” translates to “Stay quiet!” or “Stay shut up!” Here I’d like to think it translates more forcefully to STFU…

Blacks, Latinos, and the precariousness of “middle class”

Today I listened to a segment on Democracy Now! about a new report that’s out from Demos and Brandeis University on the state of the Black and Latino middle class in the United States. The study, entitled “Economic (In)Security: The Experience of the African American and Latino Middle Classes,” finds that three-out-of-four Black and four-out-of-five Latino middle-class families are economically insecure and at high risk of slipping out of the middle class. From the report, which can be downloaded as a PDF from the Demos website:

African-American and Latino families have more difficulty moving into the middle class, and families that do enter the middle class are less secure and at higher risk than the middle class as a whole. Overall, more African-American and Latino middle-class families are at risk of falling out of the middle class than are secure. This is in sharp contrast to the overall middle class, in which 31 percent are secure and 21 percent are at risk. Specifically:

  • Only 26 percent of African-American middle-class families have the combination of as- sets, education, sufficient income, and health insurance to ensure middle-class financial security. One in three (33 percent) is at high risk of falling out of the middle class.
  • Less than one in five Latino families (18 percent) is securely in the middle class. More than twice as many (41 percent) of Latino families are in danger of slipping out of the middle class.
  • African-American middle-class families are less secure and at greater risk than the middle class as a whole on four of the five indicators of security and vulnerability [named by the report as assets, education, housing, budget, and healthcare]. Latino middle-class families are less secure and at greater risk on all five indicators.

Jennifer Wheary, a senior fellow at Demos and one of the co-authors of the report, elaborated on Democracy Now!:

And what we found was when we compared the situation of white middle-class families to African Americans and Latinos, there were vast differences. You know, and what was astounding to us was really looking at—these are, you know, African American and Latino families that, by all sense and purposes, have achieved the American dream, people who, you know, have two earners, two professional earners in the household, you know, maybe are trying to own a home or do own a home, you know, very—have achieved all the aspirations that we typically go for. But even among those people, when you look at, you know, where they’re weak economically, we found that about two-in-five Latino middle-class families are in danger of falling out of the middle class. They’re so financially vulnerable, don’t have assets. Maybe somebody in the household is uninsured. And one-in-three African American middle-class families are also in danger, so vulnerable, so weak, that they’re in danger of falling out of the middle class.

I haven’t read the report yet, but when I do, I fully expect to cry. In fact, as I listened to the segment on the bus home today, I actually found myself tearing up; not only because the larger injustices behind what I was hearing, but because it hit a very personal chord.

Continue reading ‘Blacks, Latinos, and the precariousness of “middle class”’

Latina teacher fired for not regurgitating the same old crap

Karen Salazar at a rally in response to her firing

cross-posted at Feministe

Yesterday while listening to Democracy Now! I heard about Karen Salazar for the first time. She is a high school teacher who was fired from her position at a school in LA because her curriculum was too “Afrocentric” – instead of, you know, the usual Eurocentric curriculum that’s delivered to American students on the daily. From a letter by Salazar posted on the Vivir Latino site:

I am being fired because I am trying to ensure that my curriculum is relevant to my students’ daily lived experiences, and in the process, create a space for them to be critical of Eurocentric society and curricula that only serve to reinforce their dehumanization, subjugation, and oppression …

I have been observed in the classroom and evaluated by administration over a dozen times (almost twice a month) this school year, whereas in comparison, most teachers are observed and evaluated 1-3 times per school year. The evaluations claim that I am creating “militancy” within students, promoting my personal political beliefs, and presenting a biased view of the curriculum. It has also been implied that I have been teaching students “how to protest.”

Three weeks ago, things began escalating when I was again observed, and in his evaluation, the administrator accused me of “brainwashing” my students and “forcing extremist views” on them. The class had been reading a 3-page excerpt of the Autobiography of Malcolm X (an LAUSD-approved text, of which we have several class sets in our school bookroom), in which Malcolm describes the first time he conked his hair…My contract is being terminated because according to the principal, I am “indoctrinating students with anti-Semitism and Afrocentrism.” The anti-Semitism accusation comes solely from the fact that I have an Intifada poster hanging in my classroom (a symbol of support for a free Palestine), and the Afrocentrism accusation comes from the fact my culturally-relevant curriculum reflects the demographics of my students, though I am surprised I am not being accused of Raza-centrism as well.

Needless to say, this shit is disgusting. And of course, as Democracy Now! reports, it’s not an isolated incident:

In 2006, Jay Bennish, a high school teacher from Aurora, Colorado, was briefly dismissed because one of his lectures was deemed “anti-American.” On the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, Deborah Mayer, an Indiana schoolteacher, was fired after telling her class, “I honk for peace.” A federal appeals court in Chicago upheld the school’s decision last year and ruled public school teachers do not have the constitutional right to express personal opinions in the classroom.

But this isn’t just about expressing personal opinions; it’s about the restrictions imposed upon teachers who may wish to counter the so-called history in most history books with information that actually reflects the many cultures and histories that make up this country – histories that often don’t make the United States look so swell.

Continue reading ‘Latina teacher fired for not regurgitating the same old crap’

Farewell, Fidel

I feel like I’d be remiss in my duties as a Latin@ blogger if I don’t write something about Fidel Castro’s resignation from the presidency of Cuba. When I heard the news on Tuesday morning, I was neither happy nor sad; instead, I just got that feeling of realization that something truly historical has just happened. My knowledge of Castro and his reign in Cuba is too slim to really say much one way or another about the man, to condemn him or to laud him. I know he’s done bad, and I know he’s done good, and generally my feelings towards him and how he and his party have run Cuba these fifty odd years lean more towards the positive than the negative, but again, that’s a vague feeling that I feel is generally uninformed.

I can, however, say that I’m glad that Castro has left power peacefully (thus far) and on his own terms, and not on America’s terms. I mean, think about it – there must be tons of powerful men experiencing emotions ranging from disgruntlement to fury because they didn’t get to take Castro out, in any number of senses, before he stepped down voluntarily. I think that it’s a testament to the strength and the spirit of Cuban Revolution that it has managed to survive this long in defiance of the United States’ condemnation and attempts, subtle and not so subtle, at taking it down. ¡Saludos, Cuba!

Bush lost no time before prattling on about how he hopes for a “democratic process” for Cuba and that the U.S. will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty. Is that kinda like how the U.S. has helped the people of Iraq realize the blessings of liberty? Let’s hope not. Continuing to speak of Cuba, Bush said that as a part of a transition to so-called democracy, political prisoners there should be freed, since until then “will rot in prison and the human condition will remain pathetic in many cases.” Of course, this vision for Cuba stops at the walls of Guantanamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners are being held indefinitely. Bush is totally cool with them rotting in prison, their human condition remaining pathetic.

The cloud of hypocrisy surrounding that man is so thick you could gag on it.

Seriously, though – it seems that every time the U.S. pushes for “democracy” somewhere else, they’re really pushing to twist the nation in question to serve American interests. I truly hope that, whatever shape the Cuban shift in power takes, it doesn’t lead to yet another nation being used and abused for the benefit of the insatiable United States.

Follow-up: Latino voting angst

I’ve been itching to write this follow-up post to my post on Latinos voting for Clinton, especially after noting that somebody at the NY Times linked to it. (Thanks!) But, as usual, life beyond blogging got in the way. So here it is, albeit a few days overdue.

Since writing that post I’ve done a bunch of research and reading (with help from the folks who commented.) Here’s some of what I’ve found most insightful and enlightening.

Roberto Lovato has been writing a whole lot about Latinos and the election over at his blog, Of América. In one recent post, Lovato points out that, though the media spin focused on the general trend of Latino support for Clinton, Obama has begun to pick up speed with the Latino community:

Preliminary results of the most intense primary in recent memory indicate that predictions of a monolithic Latino “firewall” for Clinton have fallen short. The candidates split key Latino states in different parts of the country. Clinton won states like New York and New Jersey while Obama won states like Colorado and Illinois. Exit poll results also demolished widely-held notions that Latinos are unwilling to support a black candidate. Obama succeeded in dropping Clinton’s Latino advantage from 4-1 (68% to 17% according to a CNN poll conducted last week) to 3-2 last night. And in almost every Latino-heavy state that voted Super Tuesday, Obama received more than the 26 percent of the Latino vote he got in Nevada just 2 weeks ago.

One of the articles that I’ve appreciated most is Gregory Rodriguez’s take on the “Latinos don’t vote for Black candidates” myth that set the tone for much of the media coverage of the Latino vote in recent weeks. That notion was brought into the media spotlight by a Clinton pollster, Sergio Bendixen, who told a reporter from the New Yorker that “the Hispanic voter … has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support Black candidates.” When asked about Bendixen’s comment in the Democratic debate held before the Nevada primary, Clinton says that rather than representing a view held by her campaign, Bendixen was “making a historical statement.” In truth, however, history demonstrates that Latino people vote for Black candidates with some frequency. Rodriguez debunks the idea that Latinos generally don’t support Black candidates with multiple instances of Black candidates winning large portions of the Latino vote in mayoral and congressional elections. He also asks and answers an important question:

So what would the Clinton campaign have to gain from spreading this misinformation? It helps undermine one of Obama’s central selling points, that he can build bridges and unite Americans of all types, and it jibes with the Clinton strategy of pigeon-holing Obama as the “black candidate.” (Witness Bill Clinton’s statement last week that his wife might lose South Carolina because of Obama’s growing black support.) And two, no Latino organizations function in the way that, say, the Anti-Defamation League does for Jewish Americans. In other words, you can pretty much say whatever you want about Latinos without suffering any political repercussions.

Matt Barreto and Ricardo Ramírez also addressed the topic in another piece from the LA Times’ Opinions section. Barreto and Ramírez stress that “the Latino vote in 2008 should be viewed as a pro-Clinton vote, not an anti-Obama or an anti-black vote,” driven largely by the name-recognition that Clinton has gained in her sixteen years of national political prominence. However, they also point out that Obama has not been doing as good a job as Clinton in actively reaching out to Latinos, though he’s been stepping things up recently.

In short, while Obama has become well known in a relatively short time among political observers, he did not rise to national prominence among Latinos until this campaign. Moreover, this name-recognition advantage for Clinton was enhanced by a strong and aggressive advertising and outreach effort by her campaign and a string of high-profile endorsements. She has hired an independent Latino pollster and aired significantly more Spanish language radio and television ads. This must be contrasted with the Obama campaign’s anemic and particularly ineffective outreach effort to the Latino segment of the electorate. Even Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a prominent Latino supporter of Obama, has criticized the presidential candidate for insufficient outreach to Latinos.

Zentronix over at the Can’t Stop Won’t Stop blog has some good analysis on the Latino and Asian American support for Clinton:

Emergent voting blocs respond to leaders in their community. If the candidate wins the leader, she wins her followers. Insurgent voting blocs instead respond to calls for change, and may focus more on single issues or agendas. If a candidate stakes out a good position, she captures the community. Hillary played the politics of emergence.

Early, she locked down important leaders in the Latino and Asian American communities. In Los Angeles, that meant securing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s support, and the predominantly Latino unions that have supported him. She also landed the support of Fabian Nunez and Dolores Huerta. In San Francisco, that meant seizing on Mayor Gavin Newsom’s popularity amongst Asian Americans. She also captured a who’s who of Asian American elected officials starting with Controller John Chiang and moving on down. Just as important, Hillary’s campaign locked up a huge number of the leading Latino and Asian American party operatives–the people who actually deliver the voters.

… Clinton’s main advantage is that she has the access to power and the party structures that deliver promises to officials and operatives. Obama doesn’t. Emergent politics favors individuals seeking power. Think of it this way: Hillary, the woman candidate, is bringing Latino and Asian American leaders into the old-boy’s network.

And finally: on her blog Multiplicative Identity, author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez takes the authors of a January NY Times article on the Latino vote to task for an infuriating sin of ignorance committed by far too many in the media: treating the terms Black and Latino as if they were mutually exclusive.

Immigrants from the Dominican Republic made up the largest single immigrant block to the city of New York in the 1990s. Five out of every six Dominicans are of African descent. Many Puerto Ricans are also of African descent. There are great movements afoot in popular culture throughout the Americans to make the link between Africa and Latin America – from Grupo Niche singing of blackness in the salsa classic “Etnia,” to the Nuyorican Poets rapping about being BlackTinos … How it is that the editors and reporters of the nation’s leading newspaper … can completely ignore the significant segment of this country’s Latino population that IS BLACK is beyond me.

So, that’s a roundup of what a bunch of very smart people are saying about Obama, Clinton, and the Latino vote. Coming soon: some of my own thoughts on the topic.

NYC primary breakdown and Latino angst

Just took a look at the NY State county-by-county primary breakdown (be warned, that page can take forever to load.) Clinton only lead by 2% in the city, according to the Gotham Gazette. Here’s the percentages that Obama and Clinton came away with in each borough:

Bronx: C 60%, O 38%
Brooklyn: C 50%, O 48%
Manhattan: C 54%, O 44%
Queens: C 60%, O 38%
Staten Island: C 61%, O 36%

Woohoo, Brooklyn! I’m happy to have been part of that number. That’s a really strong showing. I’m only surprised and a little disappointed that Obama didn’t win Brooklyn. Ah well.

When I saw the numbers for the Bronx, I immediately thought, “Ugh, Latinos!” with a groan. I’m allowed to do that because I’m Latina. I also recognize that’s probably a little simplistic. But over and over and over yesterday, I heard that Latinos were overwhelmingly in favor of Clinton. Her campaign also pointed out Latino support in New Jersey, my home state, as one of the factors in her win there. My dad was one of those Latinos who voted for her there.

The Latino-Clinton connection also came in to effect big time in the Southwest and especially in California. While I was watching CNN last night, the commentators (is that just a sports term?) said that, according to exit polls, Barack had a healthy lead amongst both Black voters AND white voters. “So why is Hillary winning?” they asked. Well, according to them, it was thanks to Latino and Asian voters. I can’t remember the exact numbers but I think 60-something% of Latinos and 70-something% of Asian voters supported Clinton. When I saw those numbers, I groaned even louder, because it made me think of this article that a friend of mine posted the other day. I have a whole lot of problems with the article, primarily that I think the article doesn’t really get at how white racism against Latinos and Asians is what causes the desire for assimilation. But when I saw those numbers, I couldn’t help worry that, at least in part, that article was getting at something true.

My question, though, is this: why, exactly, do Latinos like Clinton so much? The pundits keep talking about this supposedly long-standing connection between the Clintons and Latinos, but why is that there? What did they ever do for us? Is this kind of like my mom’s (and apparently, many Latinos’) inexplicable obsession with Kennedy? That, at least, has the Catholic connection to explain it. But the Clintons? I just don’t get it. Anyone?

cross-border bullying

U.S. Border Patrol agents on the Mexico-U.S. border are apparently the frequent targets of rocks, bricks, and bottles hurled over the reprehensible walls and fences on the border. Their response? Firing tear gas and pepper spray canisters, which are wide effect weapons, into the neighborhoods of shanties where innocent people are just trying to survive. From the AP/NY Times article:

Esther Arias Medina, 41, fled her shanty in Tijuana with her 3-week-old grandson last week in the midst of an attack. The boy had begun coughing, Ms. Arias said, after smoke seeped through the walls of the three-room home, which she shares with six others.

“We don’t deserve this,” she said. “The people who live here don’t throw rocks. Those are people who come from the outside. But we’re paying the price.”

Witnesses in Ms. Arias’s neighborhood described eight attacks since August that involved tear gas or pepper spray, some that forced residents to evacuate.

The Border Patrol claims that they have to protect themselves from these “attacks,” but come on – is the collateral damage worth it? I know that these rocks and bricks can really hurt someone, but frankly, I can’t seem to work up much sympathy for pinche Border Patrol agents. Hell, if I lived on the other side of one of those damn walls and had to look at those american brutos every day, I’d probably be throwing stones at them, too. Yeah yeah, individual agents aren’t necessarily the bad guys, yadda yadda, fuck that noise. They’re the little bully agents of the biggest bully of them all, a country that owns the lion’s share of the responsibility for the economic conditions that created those shanty towns in the first place. It’s really a David and Goliath type situation, even right down to the weapons of choice:

Mexico’s acting consul general in San Diego, Ricardo Pineda Albarrán, has insisted that United States authorities stop firing onto Mexican soil. Mr. Pineda met with Border Patrol officials last month after the agency fired tear gas into Mexico. The agency defended that action, saying agents were being hit with a hail of ball bearings from slingshots in Mexico.

Now, the US claims that the Mexican authorities aren’t doing anything about the rock-throwing and that they therefore need to act to protect themselves, but isn’t it weird that they can just fire into another country like that? Much less with chemical weapons that are banned from use in warfare? (Funny, huh, that tear gas and pepper spray can be used fairly indiscriminately for civilian law enforcement but can’t be used in an actual war.) I mean, it’s not like Border Patrol can just plod on into Mexico and start fucking shit up; why, then, are they allowed to fuck shit up from this side of the border?

United States officials say the new tactics may spare lives. In March, an agent shot and killed a 20-year-old Mexican man whose arm was cocked; that fatality occurred in Calexico, Calif., where attacks with stones have soared. And two years ago, an agent fatally shot a stone thrower at the San Diego-Tijuana border.

“Hey, Mexicans, wouldya stop complaining already? We could be shooting you instead, you know!” Just… wow.

A smart Puerto Rican

I’m sure that most everyone has already heard about Sen. Joseph Biden’s inspired description of Sen. Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” As if we needed yet another ignorant white presidential candidate. Less reported was that the current ignorant white president made similar remarks on Fox News, describing Obama as attractive and articulate.

Much has been written about the incident and the true meaning of those words, both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere (which I’ve been too busy to keep tabs on lately, so I unfortunately won’t be linking to any of the wise words that I’m sure my favorite bloggers have written on the topic.) Today I read two good pieces on the incident; from the New York Times, ” The Racial Politics of Speaking Well,” and another spotted on the blackfolk LiveJournal Community, entitled “An Inarticulate Kickoff.”

Both articles discuss how the frequent labeling of certain Black folks as “articulate” belies racist undertones. First, it indicates a certain degree of surprise that a Black person is intelligent or well-spoken – as if this is an anomaly, rather than something as commonplace as, say, a white person possessing the same qualities. As Reginald Hudlin, president of entertainment at BET, is quoted in the NY Times article, “It’s like an educated black person is a rare sighting, like seeing a spotted egret. We’re viewed as a fluke. How many flukes simply constitute reality?” (A spotted egret! Gotta love it.)

The articles also discuss how the “articulate” label is reserved only for Black folks who are not just well-spoken, but well-spoken in a very particular way. From the Times:

… such distinctions discount as inarticulate historically black patterns of speech. “Al Sharpton is incredibly articulate,” said Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. “But because he speaks with a cadence and style that is firmly rooted in black rhetorical tradition you will rarely hear white people refer to him as articulate.”

And from the piece by Eugene Robinson:

What’s intriguing is that Jackson and Sharpton are praised as eloquent, too — both men are captivating speakers who calibrate their words with great precision. But neither is often described as, quote, articulate. Apparently, something disqualifies them.

I realize the word is intended as a compliment, but it’s being used to connote a lot more than the ability to express one’s thoughts clearly. It’s being used to say more, even, than “here’s a black person who speaks standard English without a trace of Ebonics.”

The word articulate is being used to encompass not just speech but a whole range of cultural cues — dress, bearing, education, golf handicap. It’s being used to describe a black person around whom white people can be comfortable, a black person who not only speaks white America’s language but is fluent in its body language as well.

And the word is often pronounced with an air of surprise, as if it’s an improbable and wondrous thing that a black person has somehow cracked the code. I can’t help but think of the famous quote from Samuel Johnson: “Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

I’ve had quite a few of my own experiences with being labeled exceptional or articulate in a such a way that the words “… for a Puerto Rican,” though left unsaid, came through loud and clear. The first such incident that I remember came in high school, when a white acquaintance was thoroughly surprised to hear that I was Puerto Rican, because I didn’t sound like other Puerto Ricans she’d encountered. When I asked what she meant, she said something to the effect of “you know, you sound smart.” My budding racial consciousness was offended, but I more saddened to hear almost the exact same thing from a coworker at McDonald’s a few years later – this time, another woman of color.

My mother, who was born in Puerto Rico and was poor for much of her life, likes to jokingly say that she’s a “smart Puerto Rican,” usually in response to some ignorant white jerk acting the racist fool towards her. The joke relies on “smart” and “Puerto Rican” being somehow contradictory. She’s always been extremely insistent that I learn “proper English, discouraging any slang or “street talk,” correcting me every time I said “yeah” instead of “yes” and whenever she thought she heard me leave the “be” off of “because.” It wasn’t enough that I knew the rules of English grammar and could speak and write within those rules when in an academic or work setting; it was a constant requirement, even in casual speech.

I never sounded anything like cousins my age, whose parents weren’t similarly obsessed and couldn’t afford to send them to private school, like my parents could. Language was among many things that created a cultural gulf between me and them, that made me something of a weirdo in my family. My mother was indeed raising me to be fluent in white America’s language, both the spoken language and the body language, because to her, that was the key to my success.

And was she wrong? Probably not. When it came time for college interviews and applications, and later, job interviews, none of my abundant nervousness was about my ability to speak or write; I know that I can talk the talk, and talk it well.

However, in cracking the code of white America, I think there’s also a great deal to be lost. I’m fluent in “standard” English, but when it comes to Spanish, I’m left struggling to express myself. I can understand a great deal, though with some effort, but I can’t speak very well at all, despite it being my family’s native tongue, and despite having studied it for four years in high school and a semester in college. Usually, I’m too ashamed at my lack of skill to even attempt to speak Spanish to Latino strangers. When I meet a white person who can speak Spanish better than me, that shame and frustration becomes tinged with anger. And that feeling of being the weirdo of the family never quite went away (though being a politicized, butch, raging homo might have something to do with it, too.) Class, education, and cultural differences all add up to a significant amount of privilege that most of my family – and far too many Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and people of color in general – will never be able to access.

But while that privilege affords me many an opportunity and many a comfort, it comes at a price: a distance, a disconnection, a weirdo status. I’ve got all sorts of deep down insecurities about being perceived as “too white” and “not Puerto Rican enough” by other people of color. The racism that we’ve internalized tells us that to be highly educated, upwardly mobile, and well versed in the rules of English grammar is to be white, or at least closer to white; that these are things that are not really meant for us; that, if we possess or attain these things, we have in fact lost a little of ourselves, our authenticity, our connection to our people. And mostly, that’s just racist bullshit meant to keep us down; but in another, sad way, because of a certain trade off that can exist between cracking the code and preserving your ties to your culture and your people, it’s true.